The Dallas Stars got off to an electric 4-0-0 start with a 19-5 goal differential. It wasn’t until their first road trip that they began finding issues. They have gone a lousy 1-3-4 in their last 8 games and have struggled to score or defend with consistency. Some of their key players are not producing while others have been missing due to injury. The most disturbing part about this stretch for the Stars is that they seem to be finding ways to lose rather than simply not being good enough. Let’s take a look at some of those ways.
No Finish to Games
Dating back to last year, the Stars scoring ability has been surrounded by doubt. They struggled to score during the regular season only to surprise the NHL by scoring about four goals per game through the playoffs, which continued into the beginning of this season. However, right now, scoring trouble is one of the ways they are losing. The Stars were only able to score four goals total in both games vs Carolina. They did not look threatening for most of those games and ended up with only one point because of it.
They did look threatening in their two-game series against Chicago last week in Dallas. They had plenty of flashes but were unable to find the final piece to put the puck in the net. Whether it was a poorly aimed shot that was easily saved by the goaltender or simply messing themselves up with a bad pass, they had issues finishing. They were only able to score one goal in each game and would eventually lose both in overtime.
Poor Timing on Goals Allowed
There is no good time to make a mistake. However, there are certainly worse times than others. The toughest times to give up a goal are early or late in a period. When a team scores early, it gives them the full momentum of that period ahead of them and the other team feels deflated after coming into the game focused. An even more deflating feeling is giving up a late goal. This is especially true in the second period when the momentum can often push teams through the third period to victory. The Stars have found a way to give up goals at the worst times.
In their first game vs Carolina, the Hurricanes scored two goals in the first six minutes of the first period. You could see the Stars bench go blank as the team showed very little fight throughout the rest of the game. In game two, Jordan Staal scored for the Canes just two minutes into the first period to take any pre-game momentum or motivation right out of the Stars again.
Dallas ended up tying the game in the second period only to allow the Canes to score with less than four minutes left to give Carolina the lead back. The Stars would actually find a way to not only tie the game but take the lead in the third period. But once again, Carolina scored the tying goal with less than three minutes left and ended up winning the game in a shootout.
Back for Seconds
This trend continued into the series against Columbus, Chicago, and Carolina again. The Blue Jackets were able to get goals early in the first and third periods in game two to win 4-3. Chicago scored late in the second period in game two to tie the game when the Stars thought they could go into the third period with a lead. Carolina coming back into Dallas this week provided the biggest examples of this problem. The Canes scored late in the first to take the lead, just 30 seconds after Dallas was finally able to tie the game. Then, they struck again late in the second to tie the game after Dallas had taken all of the momentum and their first lead.
As if that was not bad enough, they scored again early in the third to take the lead and never looked back. In game two, on Saturday night, Dallas had a 1-0 lead late in the second period and looked to be the better team throughout. Carolina was able to score two goals before that period would end including one with only seven seconds left to take the 2-1 lead. To make matters worse, the Canes scored again just two minutes into the third period to double their lead. Dallas ended up making a comeback but lost the game in a shootout. It may feel like this paragraph has been copied and pasted over and over, but that is how recurring this issue has been for the Stars.
‘That’ Khudobin Save
Something that carried the Stars through their playoff run last year was the timeliness of saves by Anthon Khudobin. As we have just learned, there are tougher times to give up goals within a game. He was able to make ‘that’ save when his team needed it most, whether it was to maintain the lead or keep them close enough behind for their eventual comebacks. This season, that has not been there.
He and rookie Jake Oettinger have both looked solid in most of their starts, but they have struggled to get the key saves when needed most. Especially against Carolina, Khudobin was unable to handle shots from distance and bad angles that NHL goalies need to stop. Oettinger just showed this flaw on Saturday night when Jordan Staal beat him on the short side early in the third period to extend their lead. These goals are deflating at any time, as the defense feels good about how they played the situation, only to see the puck cross the line anyway.
It is clear right now that the Stars are in trouble. They have struggled mightily to win games since their hot start. The focus for the team needs to be on playing a full 60 minutes. Without all of these early and late goals, their record would be much better in their last eight games. The only positive outlook is that they are at least finding ways to lose past regulation to collect some points which may be key late in the season. However, they will most likely not lose their way into the playoffs, so it’s time they start finding ways to win.
Sam Nestler is a Dallas Stars contributor for the ‘The Hockey Writers’. Growing up in New Jersey, Sam has been playing hockey since he was 7 years old. Developing a love for writing in college, Sam uses his hockey knowledge to create analyses and articles on every aspect of the game. Sam also hosts his own podcast on Spotify, the “Slapshot Sammy’ podcast, breaking down action across the NHL and NCAA. Check out the podcast here, and give his latest article a read!